All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has backed half-back Aaron Smith to play well in tomorrow’s Bledisloe Cup opener against the Wallabies despite the latest allegations about his airport “toilet tryst” scandal.
In a spicy pre-match press conference, Hansen also rejected claims that Wallabies coach Michael Cheika confronted him about last year’s infamous bugging scandal.
A newspaper report claims Smith may have misled his All Blacks bosses over the incident with a woman at Christchurch airport that had him sent home from last year’s tour of South Africa and subsequently suspended.
Later on Thursday, New Zealand Rugby issued a statement confirming that an independent lawyer would investigate the matter further.
The All Blacks had taken the extraordinary step of banishing the reporter from the press conference before Hansen declined to discuss the claim which stems from alleged text messages between Smith and the woman.
“Righto, well we better deal with the elephant in the room first - Mr Smith,” said Hansen.
Meanwhile Sonny Bill Williams has been rushed back into the All Blacks side for Saturday Night’s Bledisloe opener at ANZ stadium in Sydney.
“Obviously the incident happened last year. We dealt with it and we feel that we dealt with it decisively.
“There’s nothing more that I can add to that but if there is anything else that needs to be spoken about, it will come from the New Zealand Rugby Union themselves.”
Hansen insisted neither Smith nor the rest of the All Blacks would be distracted in Saturday’s ANZ Stadium clash.
“He is in a great head space in that he knows that he’s dealt with this issue and done the things that he needs to do around it and he’s ready to play,” said Hansen.
Nor does Cheika believe the controversy will undermine the world champions’ preparations or performance in the Rugby Championship opener. “On the field is where the game is played,” Cheika said. “On the field is where the contest is, not off the field and the distractions have to come on the field.”
Hansen was agitated at also being peppered about the infamous bugging affair, taking offence to claims Cheika confronted him about a perceived inference that the Wallabies had planted the listening device at the All Blacks team hotel before last year’s Bledisloe opener in Sydney.
“I don’t know if he ‘confronted’ me. We had a chat in Japan and I made it clear to him that we didn’t highlight and say (they) were a candidate,” Hansen said.
“There’s only X amount of people that would take that opportunity.
“Whether we like it or not, if you found a bug in your team room, we’d have been one of those people.
“We certainly haven’t named them as that and we never will because we don’t know who put it there.”
Former All Blacks security guard Adrian Gard has pleaded not guilty to making up claims about finding the bug secreted in a chair in the All Blacks’ meeting room at the Intercontinental Hotel.
Israel Folau (Waratahs); Henry Speight (Brumbies); Samu Kerevi (Queensland Reds); Kurtley Beale (Waratahs); Curtis Rona (Western Force); Bernard Foley (Waratahs);Will Genia (Melbourne Rebels); Scott Sio (Brumbies); Stephen Moore (Queensland Reds); Allan Alaalatoa (Brumbies); Rory Arnold (Brumbies), Adam Coleman (Western Force); Ned Hanigan (Waratahs); Michael Hooper (c) (Waratahs); Sean McMahon (Melbourne Rebels).
Tatafu Polota-Nau (Western Force), Tom Robertson (Waratahs), Sekope Kepu (Waratahs), Rob Simmons (Queensland Reds), Lopeti Timani (Melbourne Rebels), Nick Phipps (Waratahs), Reece Hodge (Melbourne Rebels), Tevita Kuridrani (Brumbies).
Damian McKenzie (Chiefs); Ben Smith (Highlanders); Ryan Crotty (Crusaders); Sonny Bill Williams (Blues); Rieko Ioane (Blues); Beauden Barrett (Hurricanes); Aaron Smith (Highlanders); Joe Moody (Crusaders); Codie Taylor (Crusaders); Owen Franks (Crusaders); Brodie Retallick (Chiefs), Samuel Whitelock (Crusaders); Liam Squire (Highlanders); Sam Cane (Chiefs); Kieran Read (C) (Crusaders).
Nathan Harris (Chiefs), Wyatt Crockett (Crusaders), Ofa Tu’ungafasi (Auckland), Luke Romano (Crusaders), Ardie Savea (Hurricanes), TJ Perenara (Hurricanes), Lima Sopoaga (Highlanders), Anton Lienert-Brown (Chiefs).
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